ExWeb interview with John Huston, celebrating Otto Sverdrup and the 2nd Fram expedition
Posted: Dec 22, 2012 12:46 pm EST (Correne Coetzer) Between 1898 and 1902 Norwegian Otto Sverdrup led the 2nd Fram Expedition, which mapped over 150,000 km2 of what is today the northernmost part of Canada. Since then the area, and in particular Ellesmere Island, has been rarely visited by adventurers.
John Huston and Tobias Thorleifsson have put together an expedition to Ellesmere Island to celebrate Otto Sverdrup and his work. In March 2013 John, Tobias, Hugh Dale-Harris and Kyle O’Donoghue will attempt a 630 miles, 72 days traverse on the Island.
John tells ExplorersWeb why Ellesmere Island is not often visited, what attracts him to the area, and about the challenges they will encounter.
ExplorersWeb: How did you put the team together?
John: Tobias Thorleifsson and I met in Iqaluit in February of 2008 and hit it off immediately. We share a big passion for expeditions, polar exploration history, and Arctic travel. We also share a close-knit group of mutual friends, so we knew we would end up working together.
A few years later Tobias approached me with the idea for the expedition. Together we developed the goals for the expedition: tell the story of Otto Sverdrup and the 2nd Fram expedition, travel the western side of Ellesmere Island by ski and ski sail, make a documentary, and advocate for climate change education.
Kyle O’Donoghue is our expedition videographer, he and Toby worked together in Antarctica. Kyle is South African, but he lives in Norway. We’re super excited to have a dedicated videographer on the team and we will take the necessary time to make a quality documentary.
Canadian Hugh Dale-Harris is our forth team member. I’ve known Hugh since 2001, when we worked at neighboring Outward Bound schools separated by the U.S.–Canadian border. In 2004 he traveled across the Canadian Arctic with Will Steger. The next year Hugh and Matty McNair co-led the record fastest expedition to the North Pole by dog team.
We’re excited about our team, pre-trip collaboration has been excellent, and we going to have a lot of fun on the ice. Hugh is the best candidate to emulate Sverdrup’s distinct anvil-shaped facial whiskers, but that’s a tall order.
ExplorersWeb: Why is it that Ellesmere Island is not much visited?
John: The logistics are very expensive and it’s not a pole, which is perhaps one reason why Sverdrup is less recognized than Nansen and Amundsen. I also think that because of its location it’s relatively obscure.
ExplorersWeb: What attracts you to the area?
John: The landscape is just stunning. On flights up to the Ward Hunt Island area the scenes of mountains, glaciers, and fjords out the plane window are just awesome. Wildlife is relatively abundant and unaccustomed to human presence, so seeing muskox, wolves, polar bears, hares, foxes, and Peary caribou is a possibility. Traveling through an area that is visited by very few people will be exhilarating.
I think the history of the area is fascinating, Sverdrup’s story in particular. This region his covered with Norwegian place names, Sverdup and his men mapped over 150,000 square kilometers, and pioneered the use of dogsledding in combination with cross country skiing.
Sverdrup was the quiet force behind a lot of Nansen’s successes – first crossing of Greenland, building of the Fram, and the polar drift of the Fram.
ExplorersWeb: What about polar bears?
John: During the first few weeks we’ll travel right through an area that has a dense polar bear population. Sverdrup named a peninsula that we’re hoping to cross, Bjorne Peninsula, for a reason.
We’re bringing 4 skijor dogs that will also serve as polar bear alarms. Tobias, Hugh, and I have all done sled dog expeditions in the past and we love having dogs on the team.
ExplorersWeb: What terrain and challenges do you expect?
John: The trip starts in late March and ends in early June. It’s an unknown how long there will be snow cover on land, hopefully it lasts until late May. We’re planning on using ski sails if wind and terrain permit, but how much we end up using them is another unknown. In the northwest of the island we are looking into a few interesting route possibilities… so we’ll do whatever research we can beforehand, and then figure it out on the ice, kind of like Sverdrup 111 years ago.
Ed note: Stay tuned, next year John will be writing more about Otto Sverdrup's story.
In March 2013 John Huston (USA), Tobias Thorleifsson (Norway), Hugh Dale-Harris (Canada), and Kyle O’Donoghue (South Africa), will attempt a 630 miles traverse on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic. Powered by wind, muscle, and four canine skijoring companions, the expedition will travel through one of the last untouched wildernesses on the planet. During the 72-day journey the team will document, film, and share their experiences. The history of exploration on Ellesmere Island combines the celebrated polar traditions of Norway, the United States, and Canada. Ellesmere Island also represents a great responsibility moving forward.
Travel through one of the last untouched places on earth. Film and document the journey for distribution. Celebrate the 2nd Fram Expedition led by Otto Sverdrup. Advocate for climate change education. Otto Sverdrup – The ‘Norwegian’ Explorer Unwavering leadership in the face of adversity
Between 1898 and 1902 Otto Sverdrup led the 2nd Fram Expedition, which mapped over 150,000 km2 of what is today the northernmost part of Canada. Due to a lack of unnecessary drama and his quiet nature, Sverdrup’s astounding polar achievements and peerless feats of leadership remain unheralded. Sverdrup never sought the spotlight; instead he focused on the ingredients necessary to attain expeditionary success: planning and preparation, steadfast leadership in critical situations, the cultivation of a highly functional team, and a safe return home, states the 2013 team.
Video: Sverdrup, Ellesmere Island and the 2013 team:
The Expedition Team courtesy their website:
John Huston – Chicago, USA – Age 36 North Pole 2009: 1st American unsupported expedition South Pole 2007/08: Led 57-day, 720-mile ski expedition Greenland 2005, Amundsen Expedition: Team Member of Norwegian 72-day dogsled-ski expedition – BBC, The History Channel, NRK Polar Explorer, Motivational Speaker, Author, Educator, Safety & Logistics Consultant, Entrepreneur, Degrees in History, Anthropology, Geography – Northwestern University
Tobias (Toby) Thorleifsson – Oslo, Norway – Age 33 Greenland 2008: Kite across ice cap, education project Ellesmere Island 2008: 65-day dogsled expedition, education project Antarctica 2007, Frans Josef Land 2007: Expedition team member Public Speaking: in front of over 60,000 people in the last two years. Arctic Explorer, Acclaimed Historian, Sailor, Public Speaker, Educator, Writer, Father, Consultant, Masters Degree in Polar History – Simon Fraser University
b>Hugh Dale-Harris – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – Age 41 North Pole 2005: World record dogsled expedition, co-leader Arctic Transect 2004: 155-day, 5000km dogsled expedition, educational project across Arctic Canada Igloolik, Baffin Island, Canada 1998-2008: Lived and taught in Inuit village Adventurer, Educator, Father, Sled Dog Musher, Photographer, Researcher, Educational Film Maker, Masters Degree in Education – Lakehead University
Kyle O’Donoghue – Cape Town, South Africa – Age 32 Antarctic Peninsula Expeditions 2005-2012: Filmmaker for 2041 Project Seven Summits Seven Flights 2010-present: ongoing paragliding expedition film, summited Mt Elbrus, Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro Amazon Expedition 2004 Filmmaker on first descent of Rio Maranon, Peru Expedition Filmmaker, Writer, Mountaineer. Degree in Journalism and Philosophy – Rhodes University.